There’s no denying that 2020 was one hell of a rough ride for businesses and an almighty downturn. Unfortunately, 2021 hasn’t started on that much of a positive note either and we’ve already seen the collapse of some huge high street retailers. I doubt very much they’ll be the last to go even in this quarter, let alone this year! And let’s not even get started on hospitality!
But there are some businesses that have seen growth in the past year. Amazon for example has had a 51% revenue increase. The likes of Asos, Boohoo and many other online-only retailers have seen significant increases. In comparison to many others in the same market as them, it’s like they’d already set their businesses up for a global pandemic. This was their time and boy did they make the most of it.
I don’t overly agree with some of the business practises or ethics of these businesses and we won’t mention their tax payments. But you also have to admire their growth. They created their businesses purely online. They rode out the downtimes. And then they hit fast forward on the sheer speed of their own growth. They didn’t need to adapt their business model. All they just had to scale it really, really quickly. They were ready for the long-predicted digital revolution. And now that revolution is here their competitors are left standing and wondering which way to turn.
What the past 12 months have taught us is that a sharp and sudden downturn can appear out of nowhere with very little warning. Survival may be your number one priority. But it’s also a good time to seek out opportunities for growth.
This may seem like a complete and utter no brainer. But going digital isn’t just a case of having a website thrown together, posting here and there on social media and then sitting back and waiting for the orders to come in. That’s a sure-fire way of going out of business. And a complete waste of your time and money.
If you aren’t already trading online then firstly, why not?!?! Secondly, before you go diving in headfirst, think about all the components of being a digital business. The orders may well come in, but do you have the back office functionality to deal with them? This is everything from payment processing, email and data usage, logistics, delivery and customer service. If you’re in the retail sector you absolutely must have a sleek and seamless back-office operation otherwise the whole thing will fall apart very quickly.
Think about your website. What does it need to do? Have you got a clear brand and navigation? Is it really easy for your customers to use? Can I place an order or contact you in the minimal number of clicks? If I’m more than 3 clicks before I’ve found what I want, then I’m gone. Digital eyeballs are great, but they have next to no patience.
When it comes to marketing your business online, again no just diving in. Plan, strategy, content, research. I’d love to think online marketing was as straightforward as just posting on Facebook and putting your feet up. If only! But then I’d be out of a job. Plan the details and stick to the plan. Be super clear on your brand and what you do.
Speaking of being super clear on your brand. What is your brand? Do you actually know? Are you the brand or is the product or service the brand? And what is your primary focus? It’s worth doing a little brainstorming exercise to make sure that you are clear about what it is you do and where your focus lies?
For example, we’ll look at me. Attention seeking as ever. What is it that I do? Sum it up in a sentence. I’m a business consultant with a primary focus on marketing. What is my brand? I am my own brand. I create great content online to help and entertain female entrepreneurs (although men are welcome too). This leads them to how I can serve them. My focus.
When you are your brand it becomes about who you are not what you do. This is what entrepreneurs or online personalities should be aiming for. I have several different businesses but if I brought all of it in to focus then the message would become confused and diluted. People buy from people.
If the product is the brand, like for example the big online retailers I mentioned earlier, then the focus moves to what the company is about. For example, Amazon. You don’t see many adverts for actual products on Amazon unless it’s from a digital remarketing campaign. Their tv and radio advertising is predominantly about their ethics and values. Their carbon footprints and jobs they create. Oh and Donna’s cakes.
Your marketing is going to get really jumbled if you are forever focusing on the product you currently stock if it’s ever changing. Get clear on what your focus is and, well, ummmm focus on it.
This is a bit like setting targets and goals. But in the current climate or in any downturn, setting number goals might just set you up for failure, really quickly. Instead set out objectives you want to achieve. For example, getting clear on your focus. Things like, does your website need a facelift? Set a date for it to be done by. Has your marketing strategy gone out of the window of late? Create smaller short-term plans with fixed dates in place. Do the office walls need a lick of paint? Again, set a date for it to be done by. Do you need to improve on your digital? These are all things that aren’t set to a monetary value or a target such as making an xxx number of new leads.
It’s a bit like securing the foundations of your house. If they are strong enough then the whole thing won’t collapse on you. If they are weak, you’ve no chance.
Suddenly loungewear isn’t just an Instagram thing. It’s an everybody thing. We’ve spent the past year living in our trackie bottoms. Imagine being that retailer that only sells fancy clothes and had previously turned it’s nose up at this loungewear trend. Now it’s the clothing retailers saving grace!
You may have to adapt quickly but identifying changes to the market that are going to change what your customer wants to buy are critical. Or is there an opportunity to move into selling those must-have products whilst your own products are currently sat on the shelves gathering dust?
Can your services adapt to what current demands are? Money is tight for many business and individuals right now so high-ticket services may not be selling. Can you create a more cost-effective (cheaper) service that’s more affordable to your customer without selling yourself short?
But a word of warning. If you go into a product or service that you aren’t familiar with, learn fast. I watched someone nearly blow thousands at the start of the pandemic because they wanted to get in on the hand sanitiser market. They didn’t have a clue and didn’t read the details. Essentially, they didn’t know or understand what it was they were buying. It was the wrong product. Likewise, I know a few people that tried to cash in on importing PPE. Big mistake! A fool and their money will always be separated.
Are there new avenues open to you to look for new customers? Perhaps there are ways you’ve never explored before to obtain them?
Now I’m not encouraging you here to take advantage when other businesses go bust and you certainly shouldn’t be looking to harvest their customer data. But if you have some sort of knowledge or relationship with local competitors then they may be willing to direct any future enquires they receive on to you once they close down. If they are closing down, obviously. It might seem a cheeky ask but some business owners will be glad to forward on business to you to make sure their previous customers are still looked after.
Become Recession Proof
This one is tricky because as much as you can plan for a recession, you can’t plan for a pandemic. Or lockdowns. Unfortunately, many businesses face the grim reality that their business just can’t be protected against a pandemic.
But there are things you can do to protect your business against a recession. Because as sure as buses, there’s always one on the way somewhere. One thing you can look at is the decision-making process within your business. What Covid has taught us is that when something drastic happens it tends to come at you very, very quickly. So, the more agile and nimble your business is, the better. You need to be able to make decisions quickly, no matter how business-critical they are. You can’t afford to have 6 board meetings, 27 emails and a month’s worth of zoom calls. If you’re the chief decision-maker then it’s a skill you can work on.
Learn to assess and sum up the facts you need quickly. Don’t always insist on sleeping on it. That may be a time luxury you don’t have. Don’t put off decisions. Take advice if you need to. But do it quickly. If there are a number of stakeholders involved, then have a business-critical action plan ready to implement at a moment’s notice so that everyone knows what the process will be. And that they might be missing Corrie tonight.
Always have a pivot plan in mind. Know your budgets inside out so you know where and when you can cut your costs, quickly.
A great example I saw last year was from Patrick Grant of Sewing Bee fame. He has a tailoring factory in Blackburn. During the first lockdown, there wasn’t much call for Saville Row suits, but there was a desperate need for PPE for the NHS. He quickly adapted his factory to manufacture gowns and masks that would usually be imported. He pivoted, quickly. And solved a supply and demand issue. Obviously, pivoting isn’t the answer for every business, but it is worth spending some time looking at what your plan B options could be.
Get Lean And Mean
One of the major issues during a downturn is that your revenues may drop but your overheads may not. Now really is a good time to look at what the fixed costs of your business are. Do you really need that fancy office when most of your workforce can now work from home and your business can still function? Look at all the ways you can trim the fat to keep your spending lean. But also remember there are some things you do have to pay for. And I do also mean, keep paying those you owe money to.
I recently encountered someone who just didn’t understand that for a business to function, namely his business, it couldn’t run on zero costs. That website hosting still needed to be paid for. He didn’t grasp that you still had to pay a designer even if the job only took 5 minutes. Software isn’t free. Neither is the time and efforts of professionals.
But also, be ruthless when cutting your spending. It may feel mean or harsh, but when faced with a crisis, those cost cutting measures may save you. Do you really need the fancy coffee machine with the expensive pods, or will instant do?
If work starts to dry up, and staff are sat doing nothing, you may consider redundancy. But there may still be a bit of their work still needs doing. Would it be more cost-effective to outsource the work? Should you really have hired a full-time person before you were absolutely desperate for them? Staff are sometimes an expensive luxury. Do the maths before you hire.
Consider Your Value
Apart from the sale, what else do you offer your customers? You may sell a great product at a great price, but that often isn’t enough to sustain future sales. How is your customer service? Delivery times? Returns policy and procedure? What about your social media engagement? Do you write informative blog posts or make videos that your customers will find helpful? Making the sale is only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
We (pre-pandemic) fly back and forth to Ireland a lot. I never use Ryanair. It would be the absolute worst case, no other option, that I would use them. I don’t care that they are loads cheaper. I would rather pay the extra and fly Aer Lingus than suffer the god-awful service of Ryanair.
I’ve had flight issues in the past and you can judge a lot about the airline by how they deal with things going wrong. Flight delays, cancellations, bad weather, should all be part of the customer service bible for these companies as they happen all the time. But Ryanair has never mastered them. Hence now, you have an ever-growing band of travellers that simply just will not use them. Even though the flights only a fiver.
Help don’t Hinder
This kind of ties into considering your value. If you go all supersonic desperate salesman on your customers because your revenues are down, they’ll smell the desperation a mile off. Chances are you won’t be helping them. You’ll be taking up their time and hindering them getting on with their day.
The vast amount of pointless LinkedIn message I receive on a near-daily basis is ridiculous. Offering me services that I actually offer myself. Asking me if I’m looking to do a website overhaul literally 5 minutes after I’ve just posted that I’ve got a new website! These are not helpful. They haven’t bothered to do basic research before they’ve sent a message. Chances are they are bulk messaging as part of a useless strategy that will never work.
Look for ways that you can help others during a downturn in business. Can you up your content game? Could you do some market research to get to know your customers’ needs a bit better? What about not spamming them with boring emails or pointless messages?
Granted, don’t be a mug and start offering up your services for free. That really won’t help your business. But be helpful, serve. Just don’t become a pain in the arse!